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We must reword the 1988 Copyright Act to bring streaming payments in line with radio royalties

We must reword the 1988 Copyright Act to bring streaming payments in line with radio royalties
3 min read

Be they bankers or Banksys, Britain’s greatest national asset is the sovereignty of its brains. Intellectual property has been an unassailable driver of Britain’s economic prosperity. But, sadly, one of our world-beating national assets is now being stripped by overseas multinationals.

The Beatles, Stones, Kate Bush, Annie Lennox, The Clash, Led Zeppelin, Blur, Oasis, Take That, Kano, Van Morrison and I recently wrote to the Prime Minister asking him to help British capital remain in Britain. Now, don’t stop reading just because you think of music as soft; soft power can beget hard cash.

Goldman Sachs predicts music streaming will be worth around $90bn by 2030. The British Phonographic Industry reports one in 10 global music streams is British. Logically, we should benefit by around $10bn a year. Sadly, this is not the case. The UK’s songwriters and musicians – each a small business – are the second largest exporters of music in the world. Yet thanks to outdated legislation, capital created by British musicians flows into the pockets of foreign music corporations with little interest in preserving Britain’s cultural heritage.

If we’re serious about levelling up, shouldn’t Liverpool’s next Beatles or Manchester’s next Stone Roses benefit the regions that nurtured them? The next Sting, Chris Rea or Mark Knopfler bring wealth to the north-east rather than to Vivendi and Sony? It seems music needs a new modus vivendi.

With a simple two-word legislative amendment we could repatriate much of this capital, putting it back where it belongs – in our musicians’ pockets.

Three decades ago, Parliament justly granted musicians and songwriters invaluable rights to an equitable share of broadcast revenue. But Parliament’s intention in granting those rights is now disabled via a legislative loophole that fails to describe modern music consumption, because it refers only to “broadcasting” and not “streaming” – now the major means by which the public consumes music.

Where songwriters receive 50 per cent of the value of a radio play, they receive at most 15 per cent of a stream. A simple two-word change to clause 182D (1b) of the 1988 Copyright, Designs and Patents Act would ensure a proportionate share of the value created by our musicians stayed in Britain.

British musicians want nothing more than a reasonable partnership with the companies that market and distribute our work. But this should be a partnership based on shared rewards and responsibilities, not unilateral takings.

Foreign major music companies have played recklessly with the British music economy, and even with the future of British music itself. Music streaming is bereft of difference, focusing mainly on the US repertoire and stifling innovation accordingly.

Humans are communication omnivores, and the world’s appetite for content will only become more ravenous if tastes are allowed to broaden. Britain could, as it always has, shape the tastes of the world.

Streaming should herald a renaissance for music. But the success of streaming must not be achieved at the expense of British creators.

We have an opportunity to turn British music into a high-performance, 21st-century industry with capital investment across the UK. Brexit allows the UK significant returns from its content, without inhibiting the UK as a new hub for technology. By this sensible route, British creators could benefit without the need to enforce illiberal EU digital regulations. We can have our tech and eat it.

Brexit now allows Parliament the agility and autonomy to secure the commercial, professional and artistic futures of many thousands of British music creators, enabling their trade to thrive, their regions to benefit and their work to continue to elevate the UK’s global influence. As parliamentarians, music’s future is in your hands – please don’t drop it.

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